Environmental Ethics Issues Of Hunting And Conservation

Great ethical challenges have always posed themselves when humans confront the wildlife community. Those who support hunting often cite an anthropocentric view of the interaction between man and beast dating back to Genesis. On another hand, human stewardship of creation is also a central theme in the Genesis, the story of earth’s and man’s creation. At the end of Genesis, the author states, “God saw everything that had been made and indeed it was very good”. The scripture also describes a special relationship that has been forged between man and God through the concept of imago dei. This doctrine upholds the ideal that men and women were created in the image of God.

The idea of man being created in the image of God is clearly supported in Genesis 1:26, “let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26, EE, 616). Because of this concept, numerous Christians have a positive view of nature, and take the concept that the special relationship between man and God, to mean that mankind are to be the caretakers or stewards of the earth. It is evident that there is a clear divisional line between both anthropocentric ideals of humans; we are special in that our primary role is to care for the earth and function as stewards of creation however we also have dominion over the earth and thus can use God’s creation to our benefit. These differing views beg the question can we have animal ethics and hunt these organisms as well? In my opinion conservation or stewardship has a rather broad definition to it and I think of it in terms of any methodology where the primary aim is to promote sustainable and healthy relationships between humans and natural communities. Conservation not only involves “wildlife”, but of all aspects of the biotic and abiotic community including “soils, water plants, and animals”. Together these aspects make up the land in which the health of the land community relies wholly upon its “capacity for self-renewal”.

This capacity for self-renewal depends in-part on mankind playing the part of an active agent in this ever-changing system. Without man acting as an active agent in the form of a hunter, the system will undoubtedly change, and some of these changes can bring about unintended consequences. It is because of these unintended consequences that men such as Earl, hunt to reduce the impact that the overpopulation of “one species can bring havoc to the natural order”. Hunters such as Earl carry out these actions with as much humility and awareness of the consequences that they can bring and in a sense function as caretakers of the land. From this line of thought, it could be argued that it would be morally and ethically ‘wrong’ not to hunt or intervene in a way that promotes the overall health of the ecosystem. It is evident from Earl’s speech that what hunting brings about is truly “the preservation of habitat”. However, because mankind often lacks the proper knowledge of the radically interconnected and interdependent biotic community our conservation efforts are often “paved with good intentions” but ultimately, they can “prove to be futile or even dangerous”. Therefore, hunting to prevent destruction of habitat can often be a double edge sword as we don’t have a full understanding of the land pyramid and how these “tangle of chains” fit together in a highly interdependent community. For instance, removing deer from an excessively large population may help reduce the consumption of endangered native plant species however perhaps the deer were functioning as a control method to also keep down the number of non-native invasive species? It is here that we approach the great conflict of whether we have truly committed a right through Leopold’s ideal that for an action to be morally right it must preserve “the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community” and it is morally wrong “when it tends otherwise”.

If mankind hunts an organism, we ultimately throw off the balance of nature whether it be for the benefit or not of that ecosystem. Each time mankind hunts we face the ever-lingering question of if we are committing a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ towards the land. Even to someone like me who has scientific understanding of ecosystems and their interdependency making the ‘right’ decision of whether to reduce the population of an organism through hunting would be a difficult one posed with many questions that I am unsure if I could answer. Hunting for the sake of preservation of an ecosystem is very much an anthropocentric idea that centers around man functioning as a caretaker whose duty it is to restore the natural balance of the land. In contrast, sport or trophy hunting also reflects an anthropocentric idea, but one of mankind as the “masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26, EE, 616) therefore giving us dominion over the land allowing us to use it as we see fit. In Nature Red in Tooth, Claw, and Bullet Alex states that hunters turn the process of Darwin’s natural selection “upside down”. Apex predators such as wolves seek out organisms that are “easy to catch” such as the “sick, weak, and the slow” however man does not seek out these organisms as they are not desirable and therefore hold no value. Instead we seek out the “largest and most majestic animals” to fulfill our desire for a ‘trophy’ animal. Man, consistently operates to benefit one group usually the one which we belong to at the expense of another. By hunting an organism for sport, we are performing an action that is neither truly necessary or achieves a greater good. Singer perhaps puts this notion in perspective as he ascribes moral consideration to animals and gives them moral value comparable but not equal to that of humans, stating that “equal consideration for different beings” may lead to varying treatment and rights. If an action is to be morally acceptable in Singer’s view, then human activities that require harm to another require moral justification through contrasting human interests, therefore any action performed must be truly necessary to achieve a greater good for the community. Trophy hunting fails to consider any moral consideration for these organisms. To Singer this is what makes trophy hunting, rather than hunting for sustenance or to preserve an ecosystem, immoral.

By committing this act, we are essentially committing an injustice to another sentient being. In putting our species above another we are putting animals in a different order than humans robbing them of their rights as sentient beings who are capable of suffering.


The act of hunting has always been one of great conflict for me. In some cases, I consider hunting a moral good that is required for many societies and cultures to function. For example, hunting for sustenance or hunting to save an ecosystem from further degradation due to overpopulation of a certain species. However, there are also instances in which I see hunting as a moral wrong and this is especially true when it comes to the concept of trophy hunting or hunting for sport rather than sustenance.

10 December 2020
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